Intro: Prefatory Notes to Whatever Happens Next
b y R o b e r t B o h m
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I write to be heard.
When no one listens, I write more loudly, pounding my keyboard like Bach at an organ.
The more noise there is, the more successful I feel.
I write to change the world.
When the world doesn’t change, I go out late at night and plaster graffitti on walls. Since defacement is a kind of change, I feel gratified, at least momentarily.
My graffitti consists of pictures and words. It is, in spite of being midnight’s bitter child, the pinnacle of language.
Or at least the illusion of such. It is, after all, as good as any of the other available Englishes, all of them, initially, vagrant vocabularies just like mine.
They shouldn’t be snotty. They shouldn’t forget where they came from.
I write because --
I write because I’m pigheaded.
I write because so much writing seems irrelevant that I figure my words can’t be any more disconnected from reality than other people’s babblings,
I write because I believe in the things I write about,
I write because I’m no more stupid than all the people who are supposed to be smart,
I write because I want what the people who hunt bear want: the thrill of the kill.
No matter what I wrote above, I don’t write because of anything. I write in order to write, that’s all. It’s a habit. Maybe years ago I should have joined one of those 12-step programs and stopped abusing myself. But I didn’t. Instead, I began snorting the white powder left behind by prematurely cremated prophecies and other words of wisdom spouted by all the people ever illegally arrested and left to rot in jail. I snorted that shit every night until my nose bled. And then I wrote down whatever popped into my head.
As an author, my main goal is simple. To write accurately.
Of course the problem then becomes: What does accurate mean? Does it even have a meaning. And if it does have a meaning, does it possess the same meaning for everyone?
These are good questions. But tricky. Tricky because, if they’re not dealt with correctly, they can degenerate quickly into the pseudo-intellectualisms often debated in sterile environments by artists and social-scientist-style thinkers, most of whom haven’t evolved beyond their origins -- that is, beyond the fact that they were mass-produced in industrial centers disguised as fine arts and liberal arts programs.
Those are the folks inside the proverbial box.
But you gotta be outside the box to think clearly.
So, jump. That’s one of the things I write about: the jump and how differently one sees life’s debris afterwards.
Above I posed -- implied -- this question: Is true accuracy really possible for a writer?
Yes, it is possible.
Regarding related issues like “Are accurate perceptions equally accurate for all people?”, let me make a few basic points.
First, to write accurately doesn’t mean that, in competition with the rest of the world’s population, you have miraculously found the one and only true way to respond to a particular thing or event. Instead, it means you’ve opened yourself up as much as possible to a particular thing or event so you can see it freshly, preferably from multiple angles. This process of setting aside preconceptions and conditioning in an attempt to grasp a thing or event in a state of unmediated thereness is the essence of the quest for accuracy. Being 100 percent accurate in terms of drawing conclusions about what a particular experience means is not the real issue. Methodical striving to be accurate is the real issue, since the striving itself guarantees a certain honesty and resistance to conscious and even unconscious falsification.
Second, writing accurately means you’ve taken the time to consider the raw materials (emotional and intellectual) that lie behind the ideas and/or feelings stirred in you by the thing or event that you’re trying to explore, evoke, analyze, etc. To consider these raw materials requires a certain amount of self-exploration. How did your history and background influence the formation of these ideas and feelings? Can you identify the illogic as well as the logic of why you believe/feel these ideas and emotions? Do you understand the psychological and cultural links that connect you to other people with similar experiences or from similar backgrounds? These particular questions are examples, not absolutes. The point is that in experiencing a thing or event, we also experience ourselves experiencing it, which means we experience not only that specific thing or event but also what we bring to, and project onto, it. Understanding this, and analyzing its symptoms in our daily lives, is crucial to recording things accurately.
Third, to be accurate in writing about a particular thing or event requires at least a basic appreciation of the fact that there’s no such thing as being disengaged from the world. What we write has social implications whether we like it or not.
Example. One author, either as the result of habit or conscious decision, never writes about politics or economic matters. Another author, also out of habit or conscious decision, includes these subjects in her/his work. In spite of appearances, both writers’ work is informed by an aesthetic that is socially conscious in that it contains a vision of these subjects’ relationship to the art being created. For one of the writers, the subjects’ presence within the work is obvious and speaks for itself. For the other writer, the subjects are present only as an absence, and this absence also speaks for itself. In each instance, the author’s stance toward art and the world has a political dimension either by virtue of what her/his writing includes or what it omits.
This issue of a theme’s presence in a work not only though inclusion but also through exclusion isn’t true only of social-reality topics. Emily Dickinson wrote some of the great inwardness poetry of the 19th century. Poems like “I felt a funeral in my brain” and “There is a certain slant of light” probe anxiety and death-consciousness in extraordinary, chilling ways. The absence of this type of almost ascetic inwardness from Walt Whitman’s work says as much about his experience of interiority as does Dickinson’s inclusion of such inwardness in her poetry.
I write to define the here and now. For the individual, the here and now means one’s personal experiences as well as the interconnections of those experiences with other people’s experiences,. These interconnections eventually lead to the larger life of society in general -- that is, to history or at least fragments of history.
The here and now exists over long stretches of time. But its building blocks are all the nows that make up these stretches of time. All the moments.
Each moment is a busy airport. Flights carrying sensations and ideas constantly depart for, and arrive from, multiple locations, some nearby, some far off. The perpetual chaos of incoming and outgoing is overwhelming. Or at least seems so. On closer inspection, however, it is neither chaotic nor overwhelming. If one is patient, one finds that the so-called chaos possesses its own kind of order. Once one relaxes enough to probe this order, one feels not so much overwhelmed as connected. To the simultaneity and interrelation of things.
This is an enlivening experience, not an I’m-drowning one.
Of the few people who know about my work, some think it’s mindless. Others think something else. Additionally, there are billions of people in the world who not only don’t know about my work, they don’t have the faintest idea I exist.
Still, I keep writing anyway because . . .
Fuck all the becauses.
Writing, if it’s good, is a sharpening of focus:
the needle that pokes the first earring-hole in the infant’s lobe,
the nail driven into the depths of the wood,
the iron spike that, out of love, is pounded through bone into brain, splintering once and forever all the old outmoded bullshit.